Normal People (BBC)

I, like many others at the moment, have spent the past two weeks watching the new BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s brilliant novel, Normal People, and you should too. Since I have already written a review of the book (which you can find here), this post will focus more on how well I felt it translated to the screen, rather than my general thoughts on the story and characters.

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed watching this adaptation and I think this may be because it did not deviate very far from the book. The producers of the show clearly understood the success of the novel and that to change too much when adapting it for the screen would not replicate the same success. Instead the subtlety of the novel translates beautifully into the show which brilliantly tows the line between what should go unsaid and informing the audience of just enough for them to connect with the story.

Another favourite aspect of the TV adaptation of mine was the cinematography. This was a beautifully shot show with incredible images of rural Ireland. I think this greatly contributed to allowing for things to go unsaid because the audience was given enough just from a single shot of Connell and Marianne that there was no need for any words.

An interesting choice in the TV adaptation was to soften the character of Marianne’s mother. In the book, Marianne’s mother is depicted as very cold, distant and unfeeling and while this can also be said for the character in the TV show, there are a few scenes between Marianne and her mother that attempt to humanise her. The first instance of this is a conversation between Marianne and her mother about Dublin, as Marianne is about to head to college there and so her mother is sharing her experiences there.

The second instance is later on in the series and a much more fraught interaction about Marianne’s brother’s aggressive behaviour towards her. Marianne blames her mother for not doing anything to stop him and her mother responds by pointing out that there’s nothing she can do; he’s her child and she can’t just throw him out of the house. This interaction seems to alter our perspective of her by humanising her and presenting her as being as much of a victim and as trapped as Marianne, where the book exclusively presents her from Marianne’s perspective as cold and uncaring.

Finally, I want to mention one particular scene that I thought was brilliant; when Connell is talking to his therapist. This scene was incredible to watch because it was completely stripped back, with very simple shots of Connell explaining how he is coping, or rather not coping, with his depression. At this point I will give credit to Paul Mescal for his beautifully raw performance which is particularly clear in a long close up shot focused on his face as he breaks down attempting to express what he is dealing with. The vulnerability captured in this scene is truly impressive.

I think that anyone who loved the book will definitely love this show as it is a brilliantly made adaptation that gets everything right.

If you like this review please let me know, and follow this blog to receive email updates on future posts.

Noughts and Crosses

I remembered reading the novel Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman when I was younger and thoroughly enjoying it, so I was thrilled to hear it was being adapted into a six part BBC series, particularly since it had been a while since I read it so felt like I was going into it with fresh eyes. The story takes place in a dystopian world where Aprica (or as we know it, Africa) colonised Albion (equivalent to Britain), which is now a partially segregated society made up of the ruling black crosses and the oppressed white noughts.

The show aims to explore race politics and demonstrate the injustice black people face within our society by flipping the roles and power dynamic of white and black people. The most obvious example of this is the depiction of police brutality against the noughts. They are frequently thrown up against police vans or to the ground whilst having the slur ‘blanker’ spat at them.

Another brutal example of the discrimination experienced by the noughts is within the wider justice system. The series shows us how the noughts are faced with far harsher sentences, and then treated so much worse once they are inevitably put in prison. The courts are not there to provide justice for the noughts, they are there to punish them, and this could not be made clearer than through the treatment of the noughts once they are inside prison.

However, beyond the blatant discriminatory behaviours, the aspects of the show that I found more interesting were the far more subtle examples of the power of the crosses permeating society. Examples of this that I found most intriguing were how the noughts in the army have their hair corn-rowed, as is required as part of the military dress-code, Sephy (a cross) giving Callum (a nought) a plaster that doesn’t match his skin tone, and only ever seeing crosses on the tv in the background of scenes. It is these subtler nuances of the show, rather than the bigger acts of racism, that make the world seem so realistic and draws a true parallel between this fictional dystopia and the real world we live in.

The main way in which the story deviates from our world today, however, is in the criminalisation of interracial relationships, which brings us to the main plot point that draws us into the show; the illegal relationship between Sephy and Callum. The two met and became friends as children because Callum’s mother, Meggie, works as a housekeeper for Sephy’s parents and she would often bring Callum to work with her during the school holidays. When the two run into each other at a party where Callum is working and Sephy is socialising they develop a romantic relationship, and become the star-crossed lovers at the centre of the show.

Unfortunately, not only is this illegal, placing Callum in significant danger if their relationship is discovered, but Sephy’s failure to understand Callum’s life and the way society, and the ruling crosses, treat him continually proves to be a source of conflict for their relationship. No matter how good her intentions are, Sephy repeatedly fails to consider how certain experiences may be different for Callum, particularly with regard to how authority figures and organisations treat him. Their relationship is an excellent representation of how, even when making a conscious effort, there will always be things that the privileged overlook when it comes to the experiences of the oppressed.

Finally, the depiction of the two mothers in the show is also particularly noteworthy. Watching their relationship to one another and how they aim to prioritise the welfare of their children is incredibly insightful. Whilst you cannot fault Jasmine’s concern for Sephy, her treatment of Meggie when under pressure always highlights how those in power are prepared to sacrifice those without it in the name of protecting those close to them.

This leads to an intelligent and brilliantly told story of structural racism with the deliberate intention of making the viewer uncomfortable.  I would definitely recommend to anyone that they watch this show.